(AP) Bristol Speedway unveils plan for Vols-Hokies game
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
Tennessee and Virginia Tech will finally play a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway and expect to set a single-game football attendance record in what is being billed as the “Battle at Bristol.”
Track and officials from both universities formally announced the plans Monday amid confetti and fireworks during a festive news conference at the 52-year-old racetrack. The game is scheduled for Sept. 10, 2016.
Bristol Motor Speedway general manager and executive vice president Jerry Caldwell said seating capacity for the game would be in excess of 150,000. The track sits nearly halfway between the campuses of the two schools, off Interstate 81 in Tennessee.
The NCAA-recognized attendance record for college football of 115,109 was set last month at Michigan Stadium for Michigan-Notre Dame.
Bristol’s proximity to both campuses made this event a rumored possibility since the 1990s. Weaver remembers discussing it with former Volunteers athletic directors Doug Dickey and Mike Hamilton.
Caldwell said track officials explored the feasibility of a game again early this year. He then approached Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart and Weaver.
After all that talking and speculation, the game’s finally going to happen. Weaver said the game is “a reality that’s as big as anything that’s happened in the world of football.”
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer drove on the Bristol speedway as part of a charity celebrity race in 2009 and remembers sitting in the Bristol bleachers watching races as a high school student.
The game was announced amid great fanfare, though a scheduling conflict prevented BMS track owner and president Bruton Smith from attending. Beamer, Weaver, Jones, Hart and track officials sat on a giant stage on the racetrack’s infield. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam offered videotaped messages.
To the left of the stage, numbers and yard markers were painted on the infield to create an asphalt football field, complete with artificial turf end zones featuring the Tennessee checkerboard on one side and Virginia Tech lettering on the other end. To the right were race cars in Virginia Tech and Tennessee school colors bearing the number ’16.
To accommodate a football field, the speedway will need modifications, some of which will happen as soon as next year, Caldwell said. A massive video board that sits atop a pylon in the middle of the infield will be taken out, Caldwell said.
Bristol is scheduled to host NASCAR races just two weeks before this football game. Only until after that’s complete can the football field be installed, with 8,500 tons of rock as its base.
Then there is the matter of fans in the stands being close enough to the field to be able to tell what is going on down there. Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, which holds more than 102,000, would fit inside Bristol Motor Speedway.
There also were logistical issues involving the schools.
Tennessee had been scheduled to play Nebraska in 2016 as part of a home-and-home series that has now been pushed back to 2026 and 2027.
All those hurdles help explain why this game took so many years to become reality.